One Bike Per Rider Won't Mean More Bikes On The Grid, Say Manufacturers

Tomorrow - Wednesday, February 18th - is likely to be a big day for MotoGP. For tomorrow, the Grand Prix Commission is due to convene to finalize a range of measures aimed at cutting costs in MotoGP, which we at will report upon fully as soon as news emerges from that meeting. The measures expected are likely to include the scrapping of Friday morning practice, a reduction of the length of the other practice sessions from 60 minutes to 45 minutes, minimum engine life, and for next year, the introduction of one bike per rider.

Whether the suggestion of a single bike for each rider comes directly from Dorna or not, it is no secret that Carmelo Ezpeleta is especially keen on this idea. For the CEO of the Spanish organization which runs MotoGP sees in it a chance to expand the dwindling grid up to a size where a couple of injuries won't mean automatic points for any finishers. Ezpeleta's thinking is that with far fewer bikes to support and maintain, the manufacturers would have spare capacity to provide bikes to extra riders, and help pad out the starting field.

Sadly for Dorna, the manufacturers don't see it this way at all. According to reports in both Motorcycle News and Motociclismo, the chiefs of the remaining Japanese factories are keen to seize the opportunity offered by one bike per rider to cut costs, preferring to save the money spent on the extra parts and maintenance required to provide a spare bike, rather than use that money to field extra riders. Masao Furusawa, head of Yamaha, HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto, and the head of Suzuki's racing program Shinichi Sahara all said that they would not be expanding the number of bikes on the grid, even if the one bike per rider rule were to be introduced.

The reasons are obvious. The financial crisis is hitting the Japanese manufacturers badly, with Japan's economy one of the worst hit of the developed world. Add to that the fact that the value of the Yen has slowly been rising over the past three months, making Japanese products - including motorcycles - more expensive to European and US consumers, already badly hit both by credit problems and the threat of unemployment, and you can see why Japanese companies are leaving no stone unturned in their quest for cost savings. By presenting the one bike per rider proposal as a way to save money, Dorna has given the manufacturers exactly the excuse they were looking for.

Even if a one bike per rider rule is adopted, there is a good chance that it will not last long. Swapping wheels on a MotoGP bike is likely to add 15-20 seconds to the 30 seconds a bike swap already takes if the rider decides to come in during a flag-to-flag race. If it starts to rain much after halfway in the race, riders will be much less likely to come in for rain tires, regarding the amount of time lost in the pits as an insurmountable obstacle. So more riders will stay out on slick tires, and that is inevitably going to lead to a nasty, and possibly very serious, accident. Once the riders realize that the combination of a single bike, flag-to-flag racing and sprint races is potentially lethal, they are likely to go off the idea altogether.

What's worse, it would also make a mockery of the supposed reasoning behind the single tire rule. The introduction of a single tire manufacturer was put forward on the basis of the safety argument: this way, Dorna could exert pressure to keep corner speeds down, meaning that crashes would happen at a lower speed. Once serious accidents start to happen during flag-to-flag racing, there will be a lot of hard questions asked about just how seriously Dorna takes safety, and how far safety should be compromised for the sanctitiy of television slots.

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I do understand how little appreciated Dorna is here, but in my opinion, if the 1bike per rider rule helps saving costs, that's all the better for MotoGP, regardless of how many bikes do race.
Moreover, as things stand now, of course manufacturers will simply use it to bring their costs down, since many were even considering to retire all together. When the economy eventually recovers though, they could use their extra money to bring more riders, which I guess it's what Dorna hopes. The way I see it, the rule is good for the present and could be even better in the future.

Your point about the rain is a good one. The parts involved will sure need to make a compromise. Me, I never really liked the "pitstop" rule because of it being dangerous; with no spare bike it would become even worse. I can't see no reason why they can't go back to the old formula of starting a new race while keeping the times. I've also always considered the current rule as being unfair to the teams that cannot afford spare bikes for both riders.

I have a question that will never publicly be answered: what is the material cost (COGS – cost of goods sold) of a MotoGP motorcycle or even an engine?

Let me explain where this question comes from. Based on my experience, I know that many more dollars are sunk into the design, development, and testing of a motorcycle than the actual cost of the vehicle; the iceberg analogy is apropos here. Millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours are spent creating these amazing machines, but the cost of the actual vehicle itself is relatively small. I admit that racing motorcycles use many “exotic” materials and manufacturing processes which are costly – but that is in comparison to retail production.

If riders are limited to only one motorcycle, then the manufacturers have only reduced the material cost associated with additional bikes; but the design and development dollars will not go down. In fact, I would expect them to go up, since full vehicle testing will be limited and more and more components and systems will need to be tested and verified in the lab or on the computer. Not that there is anything bad with using a computer to design a part, but I think any engineer will agree that you want to verify your computer model with physical testing. Couple this to a reduction in bike testing and I think we would see an increase in money spent on design and development.

Companies like Lola, Riley & Scott, Spice, Van Diemen, even Porsche do make money on the sale of the actual racecars, but it is the support, spare / replacement parts, engine rebuilds that bring in the big bucks. Limiting the number of bikes per rider does not make sense to me. Although I hate to say this, I would prefer seeing some parts being homologated or regulated instead.

You have put your finger on exactly the point that the cost of MotoGP revolves around. Most of the expense in building a racing motorcycle is in the development labs, where engineers spend long hours tweaking parts to make the fractionally stronger, fractionally lighter, and fractionally more efficient, and then run simulations testing their parts on ever-increasing banks of computers. MotoGP bikes are extremely expensive in terms of parts - carbon fiber bodywork runs into the tens of thousands of dollars, suspension parts run into the tens of thousands, and so on, but the true cost is in designing those parts. A carbon fiber frame for a Ducati Desmosedici  GP9 probably costs well north of ten thousand dollars to produce, but millions of dollars to design and develop.

The problem is, of course, that there is no way of recouping this costs directly: MotoGP is purely a marketing exercise, designed to showcase engineering ability. Back in the 80's and 90's, the manufacturers used to be able to get some of their money back by selling race bikes to privateers, but the pace of development is currently such that they just couldn't do that. With two recent sets of major rule changes, there is still a lot of development left in the bikes, and so last year's bikes are generally completely uncompetitive. Nobody would pay a couple of million dollars for a bike which they are going to be hopelessly outclassed on.

Contrast this, as I have written several times previously, with World Superbikes. The development costs for the World Superbike teams are negligible in comparison with MotoGP. But that doesn't mean that the factory doesn't spend multiple millions of dollars (or yen, or euros) developing the bikes. It's just that those costs are picked up directly by people walking into dealers and buying R1s, CBRs, 1098s, GSX-Rs, etc. The World Superbike series is also a marketing exercise, but it's one which is selling a specific product. MotoGP is selling an ethos, an ability, and that both costs more and its results are vastly more difficult to measure.

And that's the danger for MotoGP. The factories will continue to compete as long as someone in the racing department can convince someone in senior management to spend a big chunk of their marketing dollars promoting their engineering prowess in the world's premier motorcycle racing series. If management decides they are not getting value for money, then they'll simply pull the plug, Kawasaki-style. The marketing value of riding round at the back of the grid is minimal at best, and more likely to be actively harming your image. So you're better off spending your marketing dollars elsewhere.


You two have saved me a lot of typing! The one bike per rider rule is a red herring in terms of saving money. Sure, they'll save a few thousand of whatever currency per unit, but if you do the development to build one bike, you can build a second for a small fraction of the first! Most of the investment for these manufacturers is in the development to make the bike a reality in the first place and to make a clone of that is a paltry sum at best.

The last thing MotoGP needs is to have their riders playing it safe in practice so they won't crash and bend the frame of their one and only bike. Would frames be included in spare parts? If so, the whole argument of not supplying two bikes falls apart. I'm guessing that a couple of Lorenzo's high-sided Yamahas last season had messed up frames since they launched 8 feet in the air and tumbled end-over-end several times.

And as I think about it, I think the manufacturers probably drive up the cost of racing more by supplying a different spec bike for factory and satellite teams. The factory teams should be secure enough in the talent they sign to give the equal machines to the riders they chose not to sign and see what the riders can do themselves.

And as an engineer, you definitely want to do physical testing on your designs. The computer is dumb because it only does what you tell it to...